New DfID head set to challenge UK’s role in aid provision
Priti Patel
has been appointed to head up the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), replacing the new Education Secretary
Justine Greening
as Secretary of State for International Development. Patel’s appointment comes as the UK’s new Conservative prime minister Theresa May sets up a fresh cabinet tasked with steering the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) after the electorate voted to leave on 23rd June 2016. Patel has said her role will protect the UK’s “national interest” while “keeping [its] promises” to the world’s most impoverished countries. The appointment has stimulated controversy in light of Patel’s open criticism of the UK’s budget for international aid. The UK’s official budget has increased around 144 percent over the past decade to £12.2 billion. Patel has previously suggested DfID be dismantled in favour of a body that focuses on trade and private sector investment to foster prosperity in developing countries. Director of Europe’s
Center for Global Development
, Owen Barder, said that as new Secretary of State, Patel would likely bring “some hard questions” to DfID’s team, though said these would be likely fall “squarely in line” with the UK’s development agenda, including aid commitments measuring at 0.7 percent of GDP per year, for which legislation has been written to ensure the UK assists in the attainment of the sustainable development goals [SDGs]. “I think the questions she’ll be asking as the new minister are questions that the entire development system is asking itself post-2015 about what development cooperation really means in the era of [SDGS],” Barder told Development Finance. “ It certainly is a move away from and beyond a model of aid that [the UK] had under the millennium development goals.” DfID unwound its bilateral aid commitments to India at the end of 2015. India, a developing country approaching middle-income status, spends £70 billon each year on welfare and continues to grow annually at around 7 percent, yet remains home to a third of the world’s poorest people. Greening, who oversaw the withdrawal of UK aid from India, also approved the cancellation in 2015 of DfID’s £19 million spend in South Africa for the treatment of fatal diseases such as TB, influenza and pneumonia. The department’s emphasis under Greening on the role of free trade access in eliminating poverty chimes with Patel’s own views about reducing the volume of aid in favour of job creation through the opening of new markets. The risk remains however that DfID’s stance on trade ignores aid in countries that require both for development. “I think it would be appalling if [Britain] withdrew that support prematurely before those populations were able to stand on their own feet economically,” added Barder. “I actually think its premature to withdraw aid from India and certainly premature to withdraw it from other countries around the world that will continue to need it.” “Nobody believes that aid alone can bring about economic development. We have to see aid as a mechanism to protect people while that process of economic growth and trading out of poverty take place.”
By Jack Aldane
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Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office